The Law Of Life Summary

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Michael Ugulini | (Level 3) Educator

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The conflicts in the short story “The Law of Life” by Jack London include the conflict of “man versus himself”. The old Indian, Koskoosh, has been left behind by his tribe to die in the snow. This is because Koskoosh is old, weak, and feeble, and a hindrance to the tribe moving on in its sojourns. This is the tribe’s tradition of doing things. Koskoosh accepts this, but there is still the internal conflict of Koskoosh versus himself – his inner feelings and desire to hang onto life if at all possible, even though he is a weakened warrior.

A further conflict is “man against man”. Koskoosh, though he loves his family and tribe, is fighting (in his heart) against his tribe’s wishes for him. They are not being vindictive or cruel, it is just the way things are done, but it is a conflict of what Koskoosh really wants for himself (to carry on with his people) and what the tribal leaders see as best for the survival of the tribe.

Another conflict in this short story is “man versus nature”. Koskoosh is at the mercy of the harsh winter weather and also the wolves that will eventually consume him. Because he is old and dying, his attempts to fight nature will be futile.

He knows this, and he has past experiences that include witnessing a moose that was left behind by its pack and that also succumbed to wolves.  He sees the similarity in that situation and his present situation. Therefore, the ‘writing is on the wall’ for Koskoosh. As hard as he tries to overcome these three conflicts, he knows that in the end this is “The Law of Life” and a law that applies directly to him.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The three conflicts in "The Law of Life" are the following:  man vs. himself (or, more specifically, body vs. mind), man vs. man (or, more specifically, father vs. son), and man vs. nature (or, more specifically, man vs. snow) in that exact order. 

First, there can be no doubt that the main conflict is man vs. man.  Koskoosh's old and withering body is conflicting with his mind's desire to stay alive.  Koskoosh spends the entire story continuing to value his life as he is left to die in the snow (just as Koskoosh had left his OWN father to die in the snow). 

It is well. I am as a last year's leaf, clinging lightly to the stem. The first breath that blows, and I fall. My voice is become like an old woman's. My eyes no longer show me the way of my feet, and my feet are heavy, and I am tired. It is well.

In regards to man vs. man, we can't deny (as readers) that SOMEONE has left Koskoosh out to die.  That man just happens to be his son.  Even though Koskoosh's son is simply following the tribe's protocol to leave "useless" beings out to die in order not to become a public charge, a reader can't deny that this pits son against father.

Finally, we have the minor conflict of man vs. nature.  There is no doubt that Koskoosh is fighting to stay alive despite the exposure to the elements (in this case, freezing cold weather).  Koskoosh's elderly age was not enough to cause death (despite the conflict in his mind).  Simply banishing Koskoosh was not enough (despite the son's goal to do so).  It is NATURE that actually accomplishes the task. A human body simply cannot survive cold without adequate clothes and shelter.  Therefore, we can't negate this last, important, conflict.

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gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Jack London's "The law of life" (1901) is the story of an old tribesman, Koskoosh, who has been left out by his tribe, because he's old and useless, to die out in the snow. Koskoosh's last minutes bring back to memory his chase and experience of a moose who was left out by the pack, was chased by wolves and presented multiple stands but in the end succumbed. The conflict here is the struggle of a man to stay alive against all the odds, while also accepting that end is inevitable. Koskoosh recalls many old men and children who die during his term as the tribe chief and remembers how he left his own father out in the snow. He compares life to a girl, who first blossoms and then withers, same as human life. He also knows that to leave old, infirm and similarly useless people is the tribe's tradition. Yet in the backdrop of all this, he's still clinging to life and the hopes that maybe his son will come back. The internal struggle/conflict of letting go of life is the underlying theme of this short story.  

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